The Lie of the ‘Age of Scarcity’

The big lie is that we’re living in an age of scarcity and that the only path forward is to trim the fat and get our economy growing so that the rising will lift all boats, blah blah blah. The reality of course is much different. There is more than enough money to fund all of the priorities in the industrialized world.

In the United States, in particular, we have the money. We can do this. This is feasible. We can pay for all the things that we need to pay for, for everyone — but we have to go get the money.

Then people say “well you can’t get the money because people will just move overseas and the wealthy will just avoid taxes further.” But the reality is that they are dependent on us as a whole and we have no need to be dependent on their whims.

The reality is that the wealthy in this country would not be wealthy and could not continue to be wealthy without the benefit of the American system, which we largely let them use without strings attached. Their wealth derives from the U.S. legal code and U.S. courts, the U.S. banking system, the U.S. highway system, massive federal investments in technology research, all kinds of water infrastructure — really any of these things and more.

It’s up to us to exercise the political will to go get this money to fund these priorities. To go get this money and make it so that they cannot leave the country with their wealth or move it offshore but still benefit from all these systems.

They cannot continue to hold this wealth and participate in the United States economy with all the advantages that that brings to these wealthy people, unless they are paying a share necessary to sustain and stabilize the needs of the population of the United States of America.

It is an absurd proposition that these people should be allowed to continue to accrue infinite amounts of money without strings attached. It is absurd that the private and public sector keep “trimming the fat,” affecting the lowest in our society as well as the ordinary people in our society, at every possible opportunity — all so that the wealthy can continue to a mass fortunes that are truly beyond all human comprehension, beyond any possible need, beyond wealth itself.

We have enough money to fund all of priorities that we need to fund in our country if we go get that money. No one – no one – should be turning to right-wing populism or other evil answers to their problems just because they have been offered no other solutions to their legitimate grievances within the system.

The reality is that there are billions and billions and billions of dollars being hoarded offshore by wealthy individuals and enormously rich corporations, which should be taken back by the state and re-distributed to the people.

There are folks dominating the media narratives who have a great stake in perpetuating an existing system and saying that there is no alternative, that this scarcity is inevitable, and that we must be “realistic” and cut back, cut back, cut back, down to the bone until they have decided that they are satisfied.

But there will never be any point of satisfaction and there is no reason to insist upon some fictional claim that ordinary people cannot have these programs that are “overly generous.” There is no such thing as overly generous in the systems unless you are talking about the vast fortunes that are accrued to the wealthy for no reason. Out of all rational proportion.

We may live in an age of scarcity of certain natural resources, but we do not live in an age of scarcity in terms of budgets and social spending, except in a manufactured one.

Dispense with this false framing about hard choices when it comes to vital social needs. Dispense with this false framing that the objective of a 21st century civilization is to promote an arbitrary annual economic growth rate that is purportedly the only solution to lifting living standards and is somehow only achievable by cutting back any social spending that was making real gains in living standards.

We don’t live in a hard-scrabble subsistence society. We live in a society where there is no reason not to set, as the primary objective, a mission of raising living standards and life comfort for all our ordinary everyday people. The tangible and real things in life, that is. Not some national growth figures on a chart.

We can do this. If we choose not to, or if we choose to prioritize other things like wealth accumulation and meaningless growth figures, it is entirely a choice, not a forced decision.

Op-Ed | America’s New Regime: Wisconsin, Not Trump or Putin

The lurking power in the frozen north pulling the strings behind the Trump Administration is not the Russians but the Wisconsin Republicans.

After completely blindsiding the Democratic Party and the entire Clinton machinery, the U.S. state of Wisconsin has suddenly become the center of gravity of the coming unobstructed period of Republican governance.

The importance of Wisconsin, part of the country since 1783 and a state since 1848, goes well beyond the Democrats losing the state in November 2016 for the first time since 1988.

The fact that the margin was about 22,000 votes has garnered the upper midwestern Rust Belt state national, if not global attention due to the recount effort.

The Wisconsin takeover

Donald Trump, a lifelong New York City figure, has appointed Reince Priebus as his White House Chief of Staff. Whoever occupies that position effectively runs the Presidential administration day to day and works to advance the policy agenda of the White House.

The position is all the more crucial, given that Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, is temperamentally disinterested in any of the details of governance.

Indeed, he is expected to spend much of his time at Trump Tower in New York, not at the White House in Washington, where all the executive offices are located.

We can thus expect Priebus to take the reins of the executive branch fairly firmly. In that respect, he will be similar to Vice President Dick Cheney – under George W. Bush’s first term – who had previously served as White House Chief of Staff under the accidental president Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s.

Who is Reince Priebus, the “inside” President?

Priebus is the highly effective outgoing Republican National Committee Chairman and the former Wisconsin Republican Chairman.

A skilled party operator, Priebus is widely credited with preventing a cataclysmic split between the more fanatical base elements – particularly the Tea Party movement in 2010 – and other key factions of the Republican Party, such as Big Business interests and Christian/Catholic Conservatives.

Priebus did this first in 2010 in Wisconsin, which led to the election of two hardline business-backed and religious conservatives Governor Scott Walker and Senator. Ron Johnson.

Skilled in Washington skirmishes

Priebus then moved on to Washington, to right the ship at the national Republican Party. In the national capital, he brought the same bridge-building skills to the fore.

He stayed focused on his mission, despite the Republicans’ 2012 presidential defeat and the centrifugal forces that threatened to rip the party apart.

Middle man between Trump and the establishment

Priebus was also the rare Republican Party establishment figure who managed to work reasonably well with Donald Trump throughout the chaos of the campaign.

Priebus was seen as someone who stayed on message in the media and kept Congressional Republicans and state Republicans all looped in.

With Republicans controlling all branches and most states, this will prove to be an invaluable asset. As White House Chief of Staff, Priebus can now move to consolidate the policy agenda rapidly, before any serious opposition can materialize and organize.

Wisconsin man No. 2: Speaker of the House

But the Wisconsin power does not stop there. House Speaker Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican nominee for Vice President (another victory for the promoters of the Wisconsin GOP), will preside over reliable and hardline Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress.

Ryan will likely play the role of Prime Minister to a more hand’s-off President Trump. A policy-driven man, he has already announced a very ambitious hardline Republican agenda for the first 100 days.

His agenda includes such policies as privatization of the Medicare public health insurance system for senior citizens. National anti-union “right to work” laws can be anticipated soon, based on Wisconsin law.

Ryan is also a very socially conservative Catholic. He can be expected to seek rollbacks of social liberalism, whether on abortion rights or other matters.

Wisconsin man No. 3: A Republican Senate Chairman

In the Senate, Kentucky Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had retained his title. However, all eyes are already turning to Senator Ron Johnson of … Wisconsin.

Johnson won a surprise re-election victory this year over Russ Feingold after unseating him six years ago. Johnson appealed to the Tea Party and used his manufacturing industry wealth to self-fund his first campaign.

He bridges the Tea Party, big business, Wisconsin Catholics & Evangelicals, and (as a tough Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chair) the anti-immigrant faction.

Johnson has told the media he intends to push a Wisconsin-style “civil service reform” package at the federal level in his Government Affairs role.

That plan amounts to breaking up the public employee unions of the DC/Maryland/Virginia area and beyond. (Other major hubs are in places like California, the Democrats’ national baseline stronghold at this point.)

Why would he go after that target? Public sector unions are a major force in Democratic Party politics and (among Democratic-leaning other constituencies) the black middle class.

Assuming Johnson retains all his current Senate committee assignments, he is in a strong position to advance the Wisconsin bloc’s agenda and the Trump agenda.

As Homeland Security and Government Affairs chair, he will be partially in charge of the anti-undocumented immigrant push and construction of any border wall.

He is also on the subcommittee for “Government Investigations” and the subcommittee for “Regulatory Affairs.”

As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, he will likely champion Speaker Ryan’s House-originated budgetary proposals.

He is also a high-profile climate change denier who serves on Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and its specific Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard.

Wisconsin man No. 4: Chairman of the Republican Governors Association

Remarkably, there is yet a fourth power player from Wisconsin – the aforementioned hardline Republican Governor Scott Walker. An early dropout candidate of the 2016 U.S. presidential race, he just became the Chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

That position matters at the national level way beyond intra-party matters. Republicans, with 33 governor posts, will hold an even larger majority of the 50 governorships come January than they already do (31).

This will make the association a critical force of support for the nationwide implementation of a sweeping Republican agenda.

Governor Walker is also the primary driver in Wisconsin of the radically conservative union-busting and abortion rights rollback agenda that conservative groups (including the Koch Brothers) pilot-tested heavily in the legislature there before expanding to other states.

The gift of a historic opportunity

Democrats and the American people can rest assured that Republicans will make the utmost of the rather unexpected opportunity that they now hold the keys to all relevant levers of power in Washington, D.C. and much of the nation.

Republicans realize that this is a once-in-a-generation – if not once-in-a-lifetime – opportunity to remake the country in their image and according to their policy predilections.

Republican Party operatives are likely to be all the more focused and forceful in executing their change agenda since they, too, are painfully aware of the significant demographic changes in the U.S. electorate.

Republicans play for keeps

Despite the sweeping outcome in 2016, Republicans do know that with their hostility to multiculturalism they may well be the party that is facing a structural minority among voters in the nation.

But to Republicans, that is all the more reason to lay the groundwork now to make an eventual, probably inevitable takeover by Democrats all the harder – or less meaningful, if and when it happens.

The U.S. Constitution already has significant and disproportionate benefits built in for rural areas and hence Republicans (witness the structure of the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College, to name but two factors).

More informal measures, such as eliminating voting rights enforcement at the Justice Department, can do as much damage to the cause of true representation.

The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court, as the ultimate arbiter of such changes, is going to be firmly in Republican hands for decades to come makes all of this insidious anti-democratic change (with a little “d”) all the more problematic over the long term.

The relevance of Wisconsin, again

As a matter of fact, the Wisconsin election outcome this year is somewhat of a national microcosm of problems for the Democratic Party.

If its operatives had been a bit more realistic, the 2016 election outcome ought not to have been as much of a surprise as it was.

Midterm year elections in the state kept producing embarrassing defeats for Democrats, even if by close margins. Republican success at implementing very strict voter ID laws – which Democrats have complained about but not mobilized against meaningfully – served them very well.

The Clinton campaign’s decision not to campaign in the state (despite counting on it for the Electoral College and despite losing it in the primary to Bernie Sanders) also was a fatal error.

Together, those two factors appear to have worked in tandem to depress urban turnout by several times more than the margin of victory for Trump and even for Senator Johnson.

Democratic Party candidate-endorsing labor unions in the state of Wisconsin have also expressed frustration after the November election. They had essentially been left to fend for themselves in organizing campaign efforts and messaging in the state.

The wider lesson of Wisconsin

Ever since 2010, when Governor Scott Walker took over the reins of the state, Wisconsin has incubated a radically conservative agenda for full Republican control of all branches.

Democrats at the state level were left perplexed and repeatedly botched the response even as they rallied public sympathy.

That serves Republicans as the template for the implementation of their — now nation-wide — strategy.

The odds of success are fully visible: Wisconsin Republicans now control virtually the whole machinery of the country’s government, under and around President Donald Trump.

Democrats better not falter again if they want to have any hope of seeing the remainder of the New Deal, Great Society and Obama legacy spared the chopping block.

Originally published at The Globalist.

Zeal

There is a vast gulf between those who think politics is a sporting joust where fair play is an individual (not state) responsibility and those who think winning an election will stop the imagined home invasion of millions, a baby genocide, and the programmatic conversion of the economy to a road to serfdom. The biggest difference is that the latter are not perennial losers. The ferocity of their agenda powers them to repeated electoral wins on the narrowest of coalitions, while the opposing majority opts out of participation in the absence of any motivating zeal. The zealotry of the conservative agenda kills people, but quietly so does the mercilessly grinding and bloodless status quo. Our task now is to mount an opposing social and democratic agenda that would move us forward and to sell it to the populace with an urgent conviction befitting a platform of rescuing millions from the horrors of unchecked and unmitigated market tyranny over their humanity. Our task is not to collaborate with our own undoing nor to offer a helpful hand in the unparalleled rollback of our modern society. Our task is to obstruct, however we can, every step of their inhumane agenda while offering our own worthy program of social improvement that we can rightly be proud to campaign upon with a galvanizing and mobilizing zeal.

Beware the pragmatists who promise power without politics

We are in the political fight of our lives to stop what little we have left from being swept away, and yet we’re still being tone-policed by the centrists who lost us everything on how to win in a political climate they do not recognize, do not understand, and are utterly unprepared to deal with. Every concession to an arbitrary middle instead of towards justice is another constituency that we leave behind, weakening our solidarity, weakening our electoral coalition, and weakening our ability to take and retain power.

Those afraid to Engage in Politics will preside over very little of it.


Further reading from Arsenal For Democracy…
A world without politics (would be bad)

The politics of compromise

No politics without choices

The GOP May Not Eliminate the Filibuster, But It Can Still Pass Its Reactionary Agenda. Here’s How.

According to The Hill on Monday, a number of GOP senators are hesitant about, if not outright opposed to, eliminating the filibuster. The article names seven of them, more defections than a likely caucus of 52 could withstand on a vote. For anyone who doesn’t want to see them be able to ram through their anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-consumer, anti-democracy (etc.) agenda, this is great news.

But don’t get too excited. Because in addition to budget reconciliation — a tool Paul Ryan has already hinted at using, and which reduces the required Senate votes for passage to a simple majority — House Republicans have at their disposal a strategy that has succeeded quite well for them over the past few years: policy riders in must-pass bills.

Time after time, Republicans have attached a host of toxic policy riders to government spending bills (whether continuing resolutions or omnibus bills)—and Democrats still vote for them.

Take, for example, the Continuing Resolution (CR) that passed this September. As I noted earlier this week, it contained a provision blocking the SEC from developing, proposing, issuing, finalizing, or implementing a rule requiring public companies to disclose political spending to their own shareholders. Only 12 Senate Democrats and 10 House Democrats voted against it—and some of that opposition was more a result of how the CR punted on Flint funding (a punt that was condemnable in and of itself).

Last year’s end-of-year omnibus bill included a grab-bag of horrible policy riders (“a basket of deplorable” riders, if you will), including, among other things:

  • A lift of the 40-year ban on domestic oil exports
  • A ban on the SEC’s crafting a rule to require corporations to disclose political spending (a rider that re-appeared this September, as noted above)
  • An elimination of country-of-origin labeling requirements for meat and poultry
  • The “surveillance-masquerading-as-cybersecurity” bill CISA
  • Exemptions from Dodd-Frank for certain derivative swap trades
  • Changes to the “visa waiver” program derided as rank discrimination by the ACLU

But only 18 House Democrats and 9 Senate Democrats voted against it.

In 2014, the “CRomnibus,” the combination Continuing Resolution (CR) and appropriations bill (omnibus), offered a holiday feast to lobbyists with its range of policy riders:

  • A provision to weaken campaign finance regulations by increasing the amount that an individual can donate to a party committee in a year from $32,400 to $324,000
  • A provision—written by Citigroup lobbyists—to weaken regulation of credit default swaps under Dodd-Frank and allow banks like Citigroup to do more high-risk trading with taxpayer-backed money
  • A provision allowing trustees of multi-employer pension plans to cut pension benefits to current retirees
  • An override of DC’s recent vote legalizing recreational marijuana
  • A provision to extend the length of time that truckers can be required to work without breaks
  • The elimination of a bipartisan measure to end “backdoor” searches by the NSA of Americans’ private communications
  • A provision to block the EPA from regulating certain water sources
  • A reduction of nutrition standards in school lunches and the Women, Infant and Children food aid program in order to benefit potato farmers
  • A halt on the listing of several species on the Endangered Species List (in accord with the oil industry’s wishes)
  • A prohibition on the regulation of lead in hunting ammunition or fishing equipment

And that’s really only the half of it.

And how did it fare? The Senate Democratic caucus voted for it 31-22 (although if one looks at the cloture vote–the vote teeing up the vote for passage–that should be 47 to 6) House Democrats were less keen on the bill and only voted for it 57-139. As the minority party, they were not deemed responsible for providing the lion’s share of the votes. Even though she ultimately voted against the bill herself, Nancy Pelosi did, however, help make sure the bill had enough Democratic votes for passage. (It narrowly passed 219-206).

Government spending bills aren’t the only ones that serve as conduits for deregulatory riders. Take, for example, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) in 2015. Setting aside the many problems with TRIA itself, it was also used as a vehicle to pass a weakening of Dodd-Frank–never mind the fact that collateral and margin requirements for derivative trades have little to do with terrorism risk insurance. The bill passed by a whopping 93-4, with 3 out of the 4 dissenting votes coming from the Democratic caucus (Sanders, Warren, and Cantwell).

It’s important not to pretend that Republicans are the only ones who shove policy riders into unrelated bills. Congressional Democrats did, of course, use the FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act as a vehicle to pass a hate crimes bill. But the GOP is the one pushing riders that are socially, environmentally, and economically harmful.

How many toxic riders can the GOP attach to a bill before the Democrats balk? And are Democrats willing to shut down the government over any of these disputes–despite deriding the GOP for using that as a leverage point in the past (although, of course, for harmful ends)? Over the next four years, we will be able to learn what is and is not a deal-breaker for Congressional Democrats.

Republican Cruelty, Democratic Passivity, and What the Lack of Flint Funding Can Tell Us about the Trump Years

congress-slider

In just two days, it will be December, and Flint still hasn’t gotten funding from the federal government to address its water crisis.

The water crisis dates back to April 2014, and it was back in January when the cases of Legionnaires’ disease got media attention. Flint still doesn’t have clean water, an indictment of our political system—both Republican cruelty and Democratic passivity.

No story about Flint should go without recognition of the role of Republican Governor Rick Snyder (someone who seems to reach an almost cartoon-villain level of callousness) and his administration, but I want to focus on Congressional politics here.

Back in February, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan attempted to secure $600 million for Flint, including $400 million to match state funds to repair and replace old pipes in the city (the rest going to a research and education center on lead poisoning), via the Energy Policy Modernization Act. Most of the Senate Democratic Caucus blocked the cloture votes on the bill in order to demand funding for Flint. Republicans did not oblige, and when the bill came back up two months later, Stabenow and Democrats dropped their opposition.

Flint funding came back into the spotlight in September. On September 15, the Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act, which authorized $270 million to help Flint and other cities ($220 million specifically for Flint). Republicans demanded that this expenditure be “paid for,” leading to a $300 million cut in Energy Department research on advanced vehicle technology. WRDA-authorized projects were subject to future appropriations, but the Flint funding was designed to go into effect immediately.

However, that $270 million was not in the House version of WRDA, and the Continuing Resolution that had to be passed by the end of the month in order to keep the government funded offered an immediate opportunity to secure funding for Flint.

Republicans, of course, had no problem attaching $500 million in flood relief money for Louisiana (with no offset). But Louisiana has two Republican senators, and the flood-stricken area was represented by Republicans as well. Michigan has two Democratic senators, and Flint is in a Democratic district. Funny how that works.

After initial demands that Flint funding be in the CR, Democrats agreed to concede, provided that House Republicans set up an amendment vote to the WRDA to include Flint funding–but now only $170 million.

On September 28, the Senate voted for the Flint-less CR 72-26. (Tim Kaine and Bernie Sanders were both not present because they were on the campaign trail for Clinton.)

Of the 26 NO votes, 12 were Democrats:

Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Al Franken (D-MN)
Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
Pat Leahy (D-VT)
Ed Markey (D-MA)
Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Gary Peters (D-MI)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)

The Republicans who voted NO certainly didn’t do so out of concern for Flint. Did the Democrats? Five of them made this clear in their press releases on the vote.

Bob Menendez:

While I’m pleased that the final continuing resolution keeps our government running and provides much-needed funding to address the Zika public health crisis, I could not in good conscience vote for legislation that ignores the plight of 100,000 Americans living in Flint who were poisoned by their water supply, and also includes a measure that prohibits the government from lifting the veil on corporate political contributions.

 

Jeff Merkley:

While I’m encouraged that the House leadership has committed to providing aid to assist Flint with its lead contamination disaster, there is still no reason why that aid should not be funded immediately—just like the aid for Louisiana flood victims—rather than having to wait until after the election. Flint families have already been living with dangerously contaminated water for two years, and they should not have to wait a day longer for help. Geography, race, and partisan politics should never determine disaster assistance, and it’s wrong to help out the victims of one disaster while telling others that they must continue to wait at the back of the line.

 

Gary Peters:

“But these fully paid-for Flint resources were put on hold while disaster relief for flooding victims in Louisiana was included. I support helping people in Louisiana during their crisis, but we should not pick and choose to help some states and not others.

 

“I could not support a government spending bill that will – once again – force the citizens of Flint to wait on the help they so desperately need.

 

“It is unacceptable that the bipartisan, fully-offset Flint aid package was left out. There is no excuse for leaving the people of Flint behind.

 

“It has been a year since the first public health emergency declaration in Flint, and over eight months since a national emergency was declared. Yet almost 100,000 residents of Flint still do not have a reliable source of safe water. They are still using bottled to water to drink, to cook, and to bathe.

 

Debbie Stabenow:

Earlier this week, the House refused to take any action to help the people of Flint. After last night’s negotiations, we now have a path forward to finally pass the Water Resources Development Act with long-awaited assistance for Flint.  It is critical that the House echo the strong bipartisan support that we saw for WRDA in the Senate and that action happen as soon as possible for the people of Flint.  My position on the government funding bill remains the same: I will vote no on any CR that does not treat communities equally.  It is wrong to ask families in Flint to wait at the back of the line again.

 

Elizabeth Warren:

Is this what we have come to? Is this what politics has become? There are 100,000 people in Flint, a town where more than half the residents are African-American and nearly half live in poverty. They get nothing because voters sent two Democrats to the Senate?This is not a game. Flint is not a Democratic city or a Republican city; it is an American city. The children who have been poisoned are American children. The principle of standing up for those in need is an American principle.

 

I am a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, but I will help the Republican Senators from Louisiana. I stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their hour of need, but I am sick and tired–I am past sick and tired–of Republican Senators who come here and demand Federal funding when their communities are hit by a crisis but block help when other States need it. Their philosophy screams, “I want mine, but the rest of you are on your own.” It is ugly, un-American, and just plain wrong.

 

We must stand with the Senators from Michigan. We must stand with the children of Flint, and we must put aside ugly partisanship that is literally poisoning a town full of American families. Any Member of the House or Senate who doesn’t stand with them lacks the moral courage to serve in this Congress.

 

Merkley, Menendez, and Warren also highlighted their opposition to a Republican rider that would block the SEC from developing, proposing, issuing, finalizing, or implementing a rule requiring public companies to disclose political spending to their own shareholders. Ron Wyden highlighted the rule as his grounds for opposition as well.

Later that day, the House passed its Flint funding amendment 284-141, the amended WRDA 399 to 25, and the Flint-less CR 342 to 85.

Only 10 Democrats voted against the CR:

Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
John Conyers (MI-13)
Pete DeFazio (OR-04)
Debbie Dingell (MI-12)
Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Dan Kildee (MI-05)
Brenda Lawrence (MI-14)
Sandy Levin (MI-09)
Jim McDermott (WA-07)
Maxine Waters (CA-43)

The Michigan delegation voted against the CR because of the lack of Flint funding. DeFazio, Ellison, McDermott, and Waters did not issue press releases about their opposition. Blumenauer opposed it because Republicans had blocked a provision of his to make it easier for veterans to acquire medical marijuana across state lines.

The WRDA, along with the Flint funding promise, is now awaiting a conference, with just over a month left in the Congressional session. And Flint still doesn’t have clean water.

This history should prove concerning as we look ahead to the years of a Trump presidency and Republican-controlled House and Senate. Democrats give up their demands quite easily and are willing to vote for Continuing Resolutions to keep the government funded despite whatever riders Republicans put into them. Republican cruelty and Democratic passivity are a toxic mix. I’ll talk more about this dynamic in another post later this week.

Not Seeing the Cleared Forest for the Largest Felled Tree: Democrats & the States

Most of the ink spilled about the election earlier this month has focused on the presidential race. With the amount of money spent on it and media attention it gained (especially with one candidate being a bigoted, reactionary carnival barker), that makes sense. There have been many post-mortems, and there will be more. And there is comfort in knowing that over two million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump, regardless of the Electoral College results.

But focusing on the top of the ticket alone obscures what was happening–and has been happening–down ballot.

Democrats hit a new low in state legislative seats. In 2017, Republicans will control 4,170 state legislative seats, with Democrats controlling only 3,129 in the 98 partisan legislative chambers. According to the AP as of last week, Republicans had a net gain of 46 seats, and Democrats a net loss of 46 seats. Some races in California and Washington, however, have yet to be called, but that will not change the overall picture.

Indeed, the losses since 2008 have been stunning. Some of this can be explained by the extreme gerrymandering of state legislatures by Republicans after the 2010 Census, but that cannot explain all of it.

demlegislativelosses_lead

Fortunately, Massachusetts was largely immune to this trend in 2016. Republicans succeeded at picking up only one open Democratic-held seat: Brian Mannal’s Second Barnstable District in the House. Republicans will now have 35 seats in the MA House, to Democrats’ 125. (The Senate will remain 34-6).

Elections in Massachusetts are rarely competitive affairs, however. This year, in 77% of seats, one major party fielded no candidates, and 88.8% of incumbents ran unopposed in their primaries.

We haven’t been so lucky in the gubernatorial realm, though. Massachusetts is one of two states with Republican governors but Democratic legislative supermajorities (the other being Maryland). Democrats will start 2017 with two fewer gubernatorial offices than they held in 2016, having lost the offices in Missouri, New Hampshire, and Vermont–and—provided NC Governor Pat McCrory (R) doesn’t succeed in stealing the election away from AG Roy Cooper (D) with trumped-up voter fraud charges—gained an office in North Carolina. This leads to a total of only 16 gubernatorial offices. It’s quite jarring to think that the majority of New England states now have Republican governors.

During the next four years of the Trump presidency (let’s pray–and organize to make sure–it’s not eight), states and cities will take on extra importance in advancing a progressive agenda. That means passing bold, progressive legislation that advances equity, inclusion, and sustainability in the state and offers a model for other states and the nation as a whole (down the road), and organizing to take back gubernatorial seats and legislatures.

Here in Massachusetts, we need to do both. With legislative supermajorities, Democrats need to be pushing for a $15 minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, criminal justice reform, free tuition at public colleges, single payer health care, automatic voter registration, and the protection and expansion of the rights of women, people of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. And we also need to be working to take back the gubernatorial office in 2018 so that we have a governor who wants to play a part, or even lead, in advancing that agenda.